The terrain in Kootenay Park varies from the prickly pear cactus dotted desert in the Rocky Mountain Trench (900 meters) to the 3,300+ meter peaks along the Continental Divide forming the eastern boundary of the park. In between there are glaciers, wet highland forests, alpine meadows, limestone canyons, and the glacier-fed Kootenay and Vermillion Rivers. While most of these sights can be seen from turnouts on Highway 93, Kootenay Park has a significant network of hiking trails to allow the novice to experienced hiker or backpacker a chance to get a better look at the scenery.
The varied habitats are home to a wide variety of animal life. These include the typical large herbivores; deer, elk, and moose, and smaller mammals like beaver and snow shoe hare. Grisly and Black Bear can also be found within the park. The natural wildlife hunters include badgers, lynx and wolf.
The highland valleys and peaks just outside of Radium Hot Springs are home to a band of Bighorn Sheep; the main group of these animals in the park. Another small band spends some time in the northern reaches of the Kootenay Park near the Vermillion Pass. The Radium Hot Springs band is managed by group that includes the Kootenay Park management and the Bighorn In Our Backyard (BIOB) Project since the band spends significant amounts of time outside of the park boundaries.
Insects are important parts of any ecology and the Kootenay Park is no exception. One of the important insects in monitoring the over all health of the park environment is the Mountain Pine Beetle. These insects feed on and breed under the bark of the Lodgepole Pine. Strong, healthy trees are able to fend off attacks by these beetles and will survive an infestation. Weaker, less healthy trees will be killed off. As these trees die they fall and open the canopy, allowing the natural growth of other plant species.
Mixed forests naturally limit the spread of these beetles that feed on one type of tree. Unfortunately, fire suppression and other management practices in the early history of the park have resulted in large stands of near mono-culture trees. These areas are very susceptible to attack by insects like the Mountain Pine Beetle and major outbreaks can kill off large areas of timber. The high density of dead trees in these areas can then result in unnaturally hot, violent fires due to the high fuel density. To keep the fuel density to normal levels, the park service uses prescribed, controlled burns to consume the excess fuel. The results of these burns is a returned to the natural mixed forest that used to occupy the area.
The Kootenay National Park in British Columbia, Canada is an interesting mix of terrain, landscape and natural inhabitants. A leisurely trip along the Kootenay Parkway, taking many stops at the numerous turnouts along the way, provides the traveler with brief exposure to the splendors to be found within its boundaries.